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There is overwhelming support for the internationally
agreed goal of stopping child labour, most recently BASIC PRINCIPLES
reaffirmed by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)
Target 8.7.1 Child labour is work that would harm or REGARDING CHILD
have negative consequences on children’s development
and wellbeing. However, when it comes to the details LABOUR
as to what exactly constitutes child labour, in terms of
children’s ages as well as forms, types or conditions of he general minimum working age must be in line
œœ T
work, this need to be clearly defined in national laws. with the end of compulsory education – children
One of these forms is “hazardous work” – one of the below this age should be in school rather than in
worst forms of child labour, in which the employment or work or employment (unless exceptions apply).4
engagement of children (defined in international law as This is generally 15 years of age, but may differ by
anyone under the age of 18 years) must be prohibited. country.

The prohibition and the effective elimination of he minimum age for hazardous work5 shall not
œœ T
hazardous child labour is a requirement of both of the be less than 18 years of age (an exception may be
ILO’s fundamental Conventions on child labour, namely: permissible as from 16 years under strict conditions).
the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), and The two different age groups of children (below or above
the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 the general minimum working age) require different
(No. 182).2 These Conventions entail concrete legal approaches:
obligations for action by ratifying ILO member States and
are both nearing universal ratification. Both Conventions œœ Y
ounger (school age) children below the minimum
require the national determination of a list of hazardous working age should be withdrawn from work and
work “by laws or regulations or by the competent helped to return to school, whether the work is
authority” that should follow tripartite consultation with hazardous or not. However, young children in
the relevant employers’ and workers’ organizations.3 The hazardous work must be a priority target for rescue.
tripartite consultation ensures the relevance of the list,
and enactment in law or regulation gives it the legal œœ E
ven having reached the minimum age, children
weight required for enforcement. below the age of 18 years must be protected from
hazardous work or other worst forms of child labour
(e.g., forced labour, use in commercial sexual
1 The SDG Target 8.7 calls for measures to: “… secure exploitation or illicit activities). If a child above the
the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child
labour, … and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms”.
general minimum age is found in hazardous work,
See: it may be possible to change the task he or she is
2 Hazardous work is defined in the ILO Conventions as: “work carrying out, or the conditions of work, so that it is no
which, by its nature or circumstances in which it is carried out, is longer hazardous, thereby allowing the young person
likely to jeopardise the health, safety or morals of children” (Article to keep working. If the work is inherently hazardous,
3(1) of Convention No. 138 and Article 3(d) of Convention No.
182.). The term “hazardous (employment or) work” is found in
the Recommendations (Nos. 146 and 190) accompanying these 4 For further explanation of the exact requirements as well as
Conventions. In this document, the term “hazardous work” without flexibilities under Convention No. 138, please see ILO: ILO
further description may be used with this limited meaning of such Convention No. 138 at a glance, Geneva, 2018. Available at: www.
work “to be prohibited for engagement of children below the age of 18
years”, instead of hazardous work as one of the general topics of OSH 5 See Article 3(1) and (2) of Convention No. 138. This does not
including regulations regarding adults’ engagement in hazardous work. mean whatever hazardous work is acceptable for adult workers as
3 Article 4(1) of Convention No.182 reads: “The types of work from 18 years of age – the occupational safety and health (OSH)
referred to under Article 3(d) [i.e. “hazardous work”] shall be for all workers is also an important theme of labour law and labour
determined by national laws or regulations or by the competent administration. However, even where there exists a good legal
authority, after consultation with the organizations of employers framework and implementation system on OSH for adult workers,
and workers concerned…”. Article 3(2) of Convention No.138 it is still necessary to determine further specific protection for
requires similar action. children under the age of 18 years.
such as in underground mining, and reassignment to
a non-hazardous job is impossible, the young person CHILD LABOUR,
needs to be removed from the work.
œœ Hazardous work lists are crucial especially for this
latter group of children, who are old enough to
work, but who still need to be protected as children,
including from hazardous work. THE INTRODUCTION
AND LIGHT WORK œœ When young people who are between the minimum
working age and 18 years of age are engaged in
hazardous work, it is a worst form of child labour;
œœ T
he elimination of child labour does not mean when they are in decent work (neither hazardous
no child below 18 should engage in any work. As nor other worst form of child labour), it is youth
explained above, child labour basically comprises employment. This illustrates the importance of
situations in which a child is too young to work (i.e. regulating and eliminating hazardous work for
below the minimum working age, which should be in adolescents of that age group, who face a massive
harmony with the end of compulsory education), or challenge of unemployment and underemployment.
is engaged in work that is too hazardous or otherwise œœ The exceptions to the minimum age rules include
unacceptable and prohibited for all persons below work by children in the context of education and
the age of 18. training, under protection and supervision.
œœ “Hazardous work”, however, is not the only form of œœ The exception to the hazardous work prohibition
child labour that needs to be eradicated. The basic (as from 16 years, under strict protection and prior
distinctions made in child labour standards are instruction)8 also responds to the need to provide
presented in Figure 1. young workers with on-the-job training to learn
œœ “Light work” refers to work that is not harmful to the occupations that may include hazardous tasks – for
child and does not interfere with a child’s education, example apprenticeships in carpentry – that require
or her ability to benefit from education. Under the use of potentially dangerous tools.
Convention No. 138, light work can be permitted as œœ However, personal protective equipment would not
from 13 or 12 years of age, as an exception to the render hazardous work permissible for children: a
general minimum age.6 small helmet does not make underground mining
œœ Between “hazardous work” and “light work”, there acceptable for a child nor does a small hazard suit
exists a wide range of “normal” or “regular” work.7 permit a child to spray pesticides.
This is work neither hazardous nor light, and it is œœ The transition from school to work is a challenge
perfectly legal to employ or engage a child who has even where children have completed compulsory
reached the minimum working age in such work. or further education. Starting to work prematurely
(below the minimum age and usually to the detriment
of their education) does not mean a head start in
entry into decent work. On the contrary, those who
start work too early in child labour are more likely to
end up in informal, unskilled or non-standard forms
of employment with related disadvantages for life.

6 See Article 7 of Convention No. 138 for detailed procedures

and conditions regarding the light work exception. The exact tasks
permissible as light work should also be specified by the national
authority after tripartite consultation. Some countries have such
consultation at the same time with that for the determination of
hazardous work list.
7 The international, statistical guidelines on child labour, which
address the distinctions in child labour standards in detail. See:
Resolution concerning statistics of child labour – adopted by
the Eighteenth International Conference of Labour Statisticians
(November-December 2008). Available at: 8 See Article 3(3) of Convention No. 138 and Paragraph 4 of
product/ Recommendation No. 190.
Figure 1. What is child labour to be abolished?
18 years
Children between
the minimum age
and 18

14/15/16 years <minimum working age>

Children between
12/13 and the
minimum age
12/13 years
Children below
12/13 years
of age

Worst forms
Work excluded Non- of child labour
from minimum Light work hazardous, )other than
age legislation non-light work hazardous

Shaded area = child labour for abolition
Source: Adapted from ILO: A future without child labourm, Global Report, Report I(B) ILC 90th, 2002
(Figure 2, p. 10). Available at:


The 2016 Global Estimates of Child Labour1 indicate that about 73 million children are in hazardous
work – i.e. work that is likely to harm their health, safety or morals. This is nearly half of the estimated
152 million children in child labour. Disaggregated by age, more than 37 million children in hazardous
work are 15 years of age or older. Having reached the minimum working age, which is generally 15,
if they were in non‑hazardous and decent work, they would be in youth employment and not in child
labour. The size of this group is not negligible, particularly compared with the estimated 71 million
unemployed youth worldwide in 2017.2 Hence, attention should be paid to the link between eliminating
hazardous child labour of older children and promoting decent youth employment.

Recent data confirm that the problem exists worldwide, including in high income countries, where
1.6 million children are in hazardous work. The 2016 Global Estimates provide data for the first
time from countries in Europe and Central Asia regarding hazardous work by 15‑17 year-olds, where
5.3 million, 4% of the 5-17 age group, are in hazardous child labour.
ILO: Global Estimates of Child Labour: Results and trends, 2012-2016. Available at:
ILO: Global Employment Trends for Youth 2017: Paths to a better working future. Available at:

INCREASED in the 2017 Global Estimates are that child labour
among 5-11 year old children has not diminished and

ATTENTION TO THE that hazardous work among these youngest and most
vulnerable children even increased. Unless one could

LINK WITH YOUTH prevent these young children from entering child labour
in the first place, child labour will never be eradicated.

SDG Target 8.7 explicitly requires the ending of child
labour in all its forms by 2025. The IV Global Conference
on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour held in
Buenos Aires in November 2017 covered not only child
labour and forced labour, but also promotion of youth
employment.9 Further, SDG target 8.8 requires urgent
action to promote safe and healthy working environments,
in particular for vulnerable workers including young
workers who are at high risk of occupational accidents Adopting or updating legislative provisions specifying the
and injuries. As an integral part of the XXI World Congress types and conditions of hazardous work prohibited for
on Safety and Health at Work in September 2017 in children is an important component of national action
Singapore, a Youth Forum for Prevention focused on against child labour. Member States have requested and
occupational safety and health for young workers, and received technical assistance in this regard from the ILO
the World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2018 through individual projects, ad-hoc advice or training
adopted the same theme. over the years.11
It is therefore timely to call greater attention to the legal The ILO’s supervisory bodies regularly remind member
framework for the introduction of children and young States of their obligation to adopt or revise the legal list
people into decent work. There is no contradiction of hazardous work prohibited for children. Additional
between the elimination of child labour including pressure sometimes originates from trade unions, trade
hazardous work by children above the general minimum counterparts, enterprises in global supply chains and, on
age for work on the one hand, and the promotion of occasion, consumers – anyone who wishes to seek clarity on
youth employment on the other. This overlapping age the prohibition, including for the purpose of assessing the
group who are still “children” below 18 years of age situation and thus to move ahead towards the elimination
are also in the younger age range of “youth” whose of hazardous child labour. However, a considerable
employment should be promoted. The ultimate goal for number of countries are yet to adopt or update their list of
these adolescents must not just be getting them out of prohibited hazardous work, and are subject to comments
hazardous work, but also ensuring their transition into from the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of
decent youth employment with appropriate protection of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR).
their occupational safety and health. It is important to
underline the overlap between the concepts of children The ILO, especially through the technical assistance
and youth, and between eliminating child labour and projects by IPEC (the International Programme on
promoting youth employment.10 An appropriate legal the Elimination of Child Labour), and sometimes in
list of prohibited hazardous work is indispensable for collaboration with other Branches, has produced a
drawing a line between hazardous child labour to be number of products on the topic, either for global
stopped and youth employment to be promoted. guidance or as syntheses of national experiences. While
a number of these publications address the explicit
Nonetheless, the link between eliminating hazardous obligation under both Conventions Nos. 138 and 182
child labour of older children and promoting decent youth of tripartite consultation in the process of determining
employment should neither overshadow nor undermine hazardous work to be included in the list, more emphasis
the imperative of pursuing integrated approaches to might need to be placed on the importance of transposing
the eradication of all forms of child labour performed the consensus into enforceable legislative provisions.
by children of all ages. Among the most shocking data The ILO’s support to constituents on this specific point
is continuing.
9 See: Buenos Aires Declaration on Child Labour, Forced Labour and 11 For instance, advice was given to Myanmar on the Draft List
Youth Employment, p. 6. Available at: through the MyPEC project; when the First Lady of Côte d’Ivoire
public/---dgreports/---dcomm/documents/meetingdocument/ visited the ILO HQ in April 2016, one of the main issues of
wcms_597667.pdf. discussion was the hazardous work regulations and further advice
10 See e.g. ILO: Paving the way to decent work for young people has been provided through specialists in the field; the nine
– World Report on Child Labour 2015. Available at: Portuguese-Speaking countries (CPLP members) had a tripartite
ipecinfo/product/ training workshop on the topic in Aug-Sept 2016 in Lisbon.

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